With Christmas firmly behind us many of us are looking forward and seeing where we would like to head off for our annual vacations. And while destinations such as Europe, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand are always popular for American tourists, we also have some amazing “home-grown” destinations waiting to be discovered.
While over 40 million visitors head to Seattle each year – spending roughly $7.8 billion in the city and surrounding areas – few continue to the beautiful San Juan Island.
Situated sixty miles off the northwest coast of America and a mere 40-minute seaplane journey, the island can easily make one forget the busy Seattle lifestyle and settle into a lifestyle that is more relaxing and full of neighborly spirit.
While many coastal areas have been built up over the years to accommodate tourists, the 20-mile main island has remained unspoilt. Traffic is also a rare sight with no traffic lights and few other drivers meaning you have less stress as you navigate your way around the island.
You can also visit the island via one of the cruise lines that stop off, including UnCruise and American Cruise Lines, however it is worth adding the trip to any other cruise that offers it. Many head here to watch the whales that are often spotted as well as to visit the seaside villages that welcome you like a long lost relative.
Make sure you take advantage of any offers to fly into the region, as you will get to see some amazing views not just of San Juan Island but also of all the 400 islands that are located nearby, although some are far smaller than the main islands, making them look like diamonds glistening in the water.
San Juan Island is not without its history. Back in the 1800s the American army had a base on the island while the British army also had a base there, albeit thirteen miles apart. During the twelve years they were both based there they appeared to live in peace, with athletic races between the two camps. The British camp created some formal gardens and these are still open for you to visit today. The camps also remained respectful of each other’s culture with the Americans celebrating the birthday of Queen Victoria while the British attended Independence Day celebrations.
However this was to change in 1859 when a pig escaped from a British farm and headed towards a vegetable patch of an American settler, who subsequently killed it. Although he apologised to the pig’s owner a disagreement was had over the worth of the pig. With this disagreement in full flow both the British and Americans tried to declare themselves owners of the islands therefore enabling them to enforce their own laws.
When it was clear neither side was prepared to settle the dispute the American military sent in 60 troops while the British responded with a full warship. The US then sent a further 450 more troops with the British sending another two more warships. When the US president decided to send army leaders to meet with the British a decision of joint occupation was made. Kaiser Wilhelm I – an independent arbitrator – held a ‘trial’ in neutral Switzerland that decided the Americans should own the islands and the British troops withdrew from the island within the next two weeks.
If history is not your idea of fun you could always head to Lime Kiln Point State Park, also known as Whale Watch Park. Situated between the two camps – which you can still visit – tourists are treated to sights of orcas. Head down towards the shoreside path and make your way to the charming 1919 lighthouse and you should be able to see the beautiful creatures as they swim past.
Further along the waterfront is Roche Harbor. Situated in an impressive setting, the 1886 Hotel de Haro is a major attraction for loved-up couples to hold their weddings. The island’s sculpture park is nearby and has an amazing array of strange sculptures that move with the wind.
The main town on San Juan Islands is Friday Harbor and is home to around 2,000 residents. Not only can you visit the whale museum here you can also book boat trips to see the many marine mammals in the area including seals, humpbacks and of course, orcas. However if you want to see them while eating a great meal head over to Friday Harbor House and enjoy the sights from their clifftop restaurant.
Nearby Orca island – named after a sponsor of one of the Spanish explorers who originally found and named the island – is only a short plane or ferry ride and can be reached via Friday Harbor.
With an eclectic range of restaurants, cafes, parks, boutiques and galleries, many tourists like to head to the historic village of Eastsound.
If the great outdoors is your preference then head to Lopez Island, which offers great hiking and cycling trails.